Princeton downgrades

Princeton resorts to norm-referencing

From the Chronicle, September 18, 2007

Princeton Gives Top Marks to Its 3-Year-Old Policy to Control Grade Inflation

It’s harder to be a straight-A student at Princeton University than it was three years ago, according to Nancy W. Malkiel, dean of the college. In a faculty meeting on Monday, Ms. Malkiel announced that, in the three years since Princeton set a policy to clamp down on grade inflation, the percentage of A’s earned by undergraduates had declined across most disciplines. The policy established a common grading standard and limited the proportion of A grades (including A+, A, and A-) to 35 percent in every undergraduate course, and 55 percent for independent projects completed by juniors and seniors.


The trend in A grades continued a pattern noted in 2005, a year after the policy was adopted. From 2004 to 2007, only 40.6 percent of undergraduate grades were A’s, compared with 47 percent in the period from 2001 to 2004. In the humanities, A grades declined about 10 percentage points, from 55.5 percent in the 2001-4 period to 45.9 percent for 2004-7. Social-science A’s were only 37.6 percent of the total for 2004-7, compared with 43.3 percent in the preceding three-year period. The smallest percentage-point decline occurred in the natural sciences, where A grades declined from 37.2 percent in 2001-4 to 35.7 percent in 2004-7.

It’s not entirely clear why the problem was felt to be so bad or why it was wrong for the brightest students to achieve exceptionally good grades. It might be that the new approach encourages unhealthy behaviour among the student body as they seek to make the cut.

According to the article, the changes have not had any negative effect on employment rates though. So that’s alright then.

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